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Authors: Tiffany Snow

Blank Slate

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Blank Slate
Tiffany Snow
USA
(2012)
Special Agent Erik Langston has been tracking Clarissa O'Connell for
nearly a year, always one step behind the cyber hacking thief. She's
escaped his clutches often and easily.

Except tonight.

In
the snow-covered switchbacks of the Colorado mountains in a worsening
snowstorm, a car crash robs Clarissa of her memory and lands her as
Erik's prisoner.

Riding out the storm in a cabin, Erik is
forced to protect someone he knows to be a criminal, though O'Connell
isn't anything like he'd imagined her to be.

In a race to stay
one step ahead of those who'll do anything for what she knows, Clarissa
and Erik must dig into her locked memories if they're going to survive.
Can she trust his feelings even when he knows the truth?

Is it really possible to start over with a blank slate?

Blank Slate

Blank Slate

Tiffany Snow

The
characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to
real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 Tiffany
Snow

Originally released as a Kindle Serial, December 2012

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be
reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Montlake
Romance

P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

ISBN: 9781611091793

ISBN-10: 161109948X

This book is dedicated to Eleni
and the phone call that changed everything.

Table of Contents

EPISODE ONE

CHAPTER ONE

I
t
had begun to snow.

Special
Agent Erik Langston sighed in frustration, his breath fogging up the glass
inside the SUV. He hated the cold, and he hated snow, which was why he was
particularly irritated that he was stuck in both at the moment. Colorado was a
place he might actually enjoy visiting, when the temperature wasn’t hovering
about ten degrees above zero.

It
was getting late, the darkness outside the car windows broken only by the amber
glow filtering from the windows on the villa nestled in the side of the
mountain. The trees surrounding the luxury residence lent to its artistry. Picking
up his high-powered binoculars, Erik could see through the floor-to-ceiling
windows to the party going on inside. Women dressed in long gowns spun
elegantly on the arms of tuxedoed men, their jewels glistening in the light of
the chandeliers.

No
doubt just one of those gowns cost three months’ salary, he thought wryly. But
he hadn’t picked this profession for the money; he’d chosen it to put bad guys
behind bars, and one of those bad guys was inside that villa.

The
cell phone lying on the empty passenger seat began to buzz. Erik picked it up.

“Langston,”
he answered.

“Still
chasing your tail in the middle of nowhere?”

Erik
bit back a sharp retort, the jibe from his colleague and erstwhile partner
grating on his nerves more than usual.

“What
do you want, Kaminski?”

“Just
checking up on you. Not everyone chooses to spend New Year’s Eve stalking
thieves with a track record of outrunning and outsmarting the FBI.”

Judging
by the slurring of his words and the sounds of revelry in the background, Erik
thought it was safe to assume Kaminski was drunk.

“What
I choose to do in my time off is none of your business,” Erik retorted, though
the fact that he was bothering to argue with a drunken asshole gave proof to
the fact that he’d gone too long
without any interaction with another person. Obviously, communing with nature
wasn’t his thing.

“Dude,
I’m just saying, you’re obsessed. Lay off the work and get a life. You won’t
make an arrest tonight, not alone. And how long has it been since you’ve been
laid?”

 “Fuck
off.” Erik hung up.

Before
the call he’d been bored and cold. Now he was bored, cold, and pissed off.

It
wasn’t like he didn’t get offers. Women tended to find him attractive, more so
once they realized what he did for a living, but Erik chalked that up to too
much television. Usually, he gave them a pass. It wasn’t worth the hassle. Invariably
he’d get hooked into the scenario of a woman relentlessly calling him, unable
to take the hint when he didn’t call them back. Then he’d feel guilty, once or
twice allowing himself to be coerced into dinner with sex for dessert, and then
he was in even deeper than before.

No
thanks.

So
he worked. And worked. This case in particular had been a thorn in his side for
the better part of a year.

He’d
been following the trail a thief who specialized in hacking the computers and
bank accounts of some of the wealthiest people in the world. In an usual twist,
those same people usually had some sort of link to organized crime. A vigilante
masquerading as Robin Hood? Or just a talented thief with a taste for the
absurd?

Erik
had been tracking the hacker and their targets for months, always one step
behind. Tonight, he’d hoped to turn that around. An anonymous tip had led him
to this desolate spot in the Colorado mountains, where he’d been stuck watching
the villa for the past two nights; that’s how desperate he was to nail this
case.

Muttering
a curse, Erik climbed out of the SUV, pocketing his keys and holstering his
gun. The snow crunched underneath his feet as he set off toward the villa. Crashing
a New Year’s Eve party wasn’t usually his thing, but damned if he was going to
be outsmarted again, and he was tired of waiting.

A
few minutes later, he was knocking on the front door. A butler opened it, and
with a flash of his badge and an admonition to alert no one to his presence, he
was inside.

Jeans
and a sweater may have passed muster at the office, but were decidedly lowbrow
for this party, not that Erik cared. The guests had been dining, drinking, and
dancing for hours. No one even gave him a second look.

She
was here. His gut told him so, and he always listened to his gut.

Snagging
an hors d’oeuvre off a passing waitress’s tray, Erik popped it in his mouth,
his practiced gaze scanning the crowd.

Clarissa
O’Connell kept moving, though she’d spotted the cop immediately. Damn. How’d he
find her?

It
didn’t matter. By the time he realized what was going on, she would be long
gone.

She
gave him one more look, since he certainly deserved it. Tall and
broad-shouldered, his hair a deep mahogany, he stood out from the crowd, and
not just because of his clothing. He carried himself with a confidence
bordering on arrogance. In another lifetime, Clarissa might have tried her luck
with him. But not tonight.

Hurrying
back to the kitchen, Clarissa discarded the tray of food from which the cop had
plucked his morsel. Loitering by the servants’ staircase, she waited, patiently
watching for the moment when no one was noticing her. When that time came, she
soundlessly climbed the darkened steps to the upper floors, pulling on a pair
of latex gloves as she did so.

If
she did this right, she’d finally be free.

The
information she’d been given was accurate, and several minutes later she was
standing in front of a computer monitor, waiting for the program she’d uploaded
from her flash drive to go to work.

“Solomon
said you’d show up tonight.”

Clarissa’s
hand went for the gun strapped to her thigh.

“Ah,
ah, ah,” cautioned the man now standing directly behind her. He’d blended with
the shadows and not made a sound. Now the cold metal of his gun pressed against
her bare neck. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Hand it over.”

Moving
slowly and deliberately, Clarissa gave him her gun, turning so she faced him.

“I
see why Solomon chose you,” he said with a snort. “Not exactly a looker. I bet
you blend in real well.”

Clarissa
ignored his insult, thinking furiously, her palms damp with sweat. “Solomon
told you about me?”

“Yep.
Looks like your boss thinks you’ve outlived your usefulness. I’m here to tie up
loose ends.”

“That’s
not what I was promised.”

“Deals
change, sweetheart.”

Clarissa’s
smile was sweet as molasses as her fingers closed over the heavy silver letter
opener lying on the desk at her back. “So they do.”

Quick
as a snake, she struck, shoving the arm holding the gun as she buried the
letter opener to the hilt in his side.

He
grunted in pain, snarling curses as they struggled. Her knee came up, nailing
him in the crotch. The gun dropped to the floor as he dropped to his knees. An
elbow to the back of the neck and he was out cold at her feet.

She
retrieved her gun then reached over, typed a few commands into the computer,
and waited impatiently for the files to be copied. When it was finished, she
snatched the flash drive out of its slot. If Solomon wanted those files, he’d
have to pay dearly for them, the lying bastard.

A
few keystrokes later, information began to upload to her remote server, not
that anyone would notice if they sat down in front of the computer. The program
was both silent and invisible to all but the savviest of technicians, and even
then nearly impossible to get rid of unless the drive was wiped clean.

Clarissa
felt the usual thrill of satisfaction from seeing her work in action. Software
was easy, logical; the rules it followed never wavered or changed. Unlike
people. People lied to you, betrayed you, used you. The only way to stay alive
was to never trust anyone, ever. That lesson had saved her life more than once.

And
now it was past time to leave.

Clarissa
hurried to the door, checking to make sure the hallway was clear. A shadow in
the corridor made her whisk back inside, out of sight.

She
never heard the gunshot, just a searing pain ripping through her. Reacting
automatically, she spun, took quick aim, and pulled the trigger. Her would-be
assassin fell back to the floor and didn’t get up again.

The
wound in her side was bleeding. If she hadn’t moved at the last moment, she’d
be dead. It wasn’t that bad, though it hurt like hell. The blood mated with the
black fabric of her uniform, darkening it, but thankfully not standing out. No
one looked, really looked, at the waitstaff. She’d just slip out the back door
with no one the wiser.

Pressing
her hand tightly to her side, Clarissa eased into the hallway. The gunshot had
gone unnoticed, it seemed, possibly not heard over the revelry of the midnight
celebrations below. The New Year had arrived at a very opportune moment.

At
least, it seemed that way until she rounded the corner and ran right into the
cop.

Erik’s
hands shot out, grabbing the waitress’s upper arms before she fell backward
from their collision. A little thing, her arms seemed fragile enough for him to
break with his bare hands. He eased his hold, not wanting to hurt her.

“Are
you all right?” he asked.

She
didn’t answer, the surprise on her face somewhat comical. He repeated his
question.

“No
hablo Inglés,” the girl stammered, her eyes wide.

Erik
frowned, releasing her. He watched as she hurried down the hall, glancing back
at him once before disappearing down a set of stairs. Dismissing her with a
shake of his head, he turned back to the empty hallway. He could have sworn
he’d heard a gunshot from up here. If he’d been downstairs, he would’ve missed
it, with the party in full swing. But he’d been exploring the upper floors when
the unmistakable sound had rung out.

Opening
yet another door, Erik saw the faint blue glow of a computer monitor reflecting
off the large picture window behind a desk. Casually flipping on the light, he
froze when he saw the body on the floor.

Erik
raced forward, crouching to turn the man onto his back. A gun with a silencer
attached lay beside the body, the wound in his chest deadly accurate. His eyes
stared straight ahead, sightless, while something protruded from his side. Grasping
it, Erik pulled out a silver letter opener.

The
waitress. Shit!

Jumping
to his feet, Erik peered out the window to the grounds below. Sure enough, he
saw her, hurrying away from the villa toward the bank of cars parked for the
guests. Clutching awkwardly at her side, she disappeared among the steel maze.

Erik
ran down the hall, racing down the stairs toward the front door, gun in hand.

A
woman spotted him, saw the gun, and screamed, pointing, “He has a gun!”

Cries
of alarm spread through the guests as Erik pushed his way through them. Dammit!
This was taking too long. She was going to be long gone if he had to stop to
explain who he was and what was happening.

The
butler who’d let him in earlier now stood uncertainly in front of the doorway,
blocking Erik’s path.

Erik
pointed his gun at him as he ran. “Open it!” he ordered.

The
butler blanched, then scurried to do his bidding, flinging open the door just
in time for Erik to launch himself through the opening and out into the frigid
night.

Panting
for air, Erik skidded to a halt, scanning the cars through the thickening snow
falling from the sky.

There.
A sedan was pulling out of the lot on the far side. Erik’s smile was one of
satisfaction. That car was a bad choice on a night like tonight in a place like
this. He ran to his SUV.

Clarissa
blinked hard, trying to clear her vision. The damn wound in her side hurt more
than she’d bargained for, the loss of blood making her slightly dizzy. Damn Solomon
and his double-crossing ways! This job should’ve been a piece of cake; had
been, until the hired gun had showed up. She’d even slipped past the cop.

Lights
in the rearview mirror caught Clarissa’s eye. Someone was chasing her, and
catching up fast. Alarmed, she stepped on the gas, the sedan’s wheels spinning
on the fresh snow as it picked up speed.

Clarissa
had memorized the map of roads for the area, though some of them barely
deserved the name, being little more than clearings just wide enough for one
car to pass through. Forcing herself to concentrate, she put both hands on the frigid
wheel, hoping the uniform she wore was tight enough to keep the bleeding down. Consulting
her memory, she suddenly stepped hard on the brakes, spun the wheel, and hit
the gas again. The car fishtailed at the abrupt turn before the wheels found
purchase and she shot down the road.

Snow
lay on the evergreens overhead, their laden branches hanging low and brushing
the car as she flew past. The snowfall was heavy, the flakes coming down thick
and fast. Glancing in her mirror, Clarissa saw the lights still behind her, the
pursuer taking the sudden turn in stride and eating up the ground between them.

Clarissa
cursed her decision to take the sedan rather than searching the lot for a more
appropriate vehicle. At the time, expediency had seemed to be the wisest
course, but she hadn’t known she’d have someone chasing her. Someone who
appeared quite relentless.

Consulting
the map in her head yet again, Clarissa wavered in indecision. She thought she
could make the turn ahead, but that road was filled with dangerous switchbacks.
One more glance in the mirror and her lips thinned into a tight line. There
really wasn’t a choice, not if she wanted to lose the guy behind her.

A
brief thought flashed through her mind — she hoped it wasn’t the cop. He was
doing his job and didn’t deserve to be killed for it. She just really didn’t
have time to be arrested, even by a cop as mouth-wateringly gorgeous as that
one.

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